March Madness has officially begun!

The Annual NCAA tournament is about much more than just great sports and great TV – it’s a huge branding opportunity for the field of 64. The individual colleges included should continue to ride the wave of this newfound media attention to boost their reputations in the eyes of undergrad hopefuls, and former and future alums! The fame and notoriety of top seeds like Kansas for example, which has less name recognition than say, Duke or Kentucky, can really make a difference to these schools and their programs.

We’d like to zoom in on one school this week that’s had a Wild(cat) ride to the NCAA tournament.

On Thursday night, Northwestern University scored its first ever NCAA tournament victory over Vanderbilt in a wild 68-66 finish.

Northwestern’s mere placement in the NCAA is pretty astounding – this is the first time they’ve ever made the tournament in the school’s history. Though it is a Big Ten School, Northwestern has been shut out of the NCAA tournament since its very inception in 1939. Considering the school’s world-renowned Medill School of Journalism and notable alumni across entertainment and pop culture, the media muscle behind the school’s success is going to be unprecedented. In late night – Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert are both proud grads. And on the bench? Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ son, Charlie Hall. The coach himself, Chris Collins, is the son of the retired basketball player turned sports analyst Doug Collins.

The hype around this school, this team, this year is truly something special, and we are definitely curious to see how the school itself rides this Wildcat wave of success across its marketing campaigns. The Chicago Tribune doesn’t mince words: “The first appearance by Northwestern University’s men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament could mean a boost for everything from enrollment applications to sponsorships, sports industry experts say.” Like all college sports, the actual athletes only get paid in glory, but Northwestern itself could stand to benefit in very tangible ways – from better recruits, to increased enrollment,expanded and more fiercely loyal fanbase, and the reengagement of alumni members (and yes, the non-celebrity ones too).

We’ll be watching to see how Northwestern maximizes this new “feel good” PR story. GO CATS!

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